Billie Holiday: A Voice of Protest

I am on vacation, so one of the things I enjoy is watching movies or series. Recently, I watched The United States vs. Billie Holiday, directed by Lee Daniels, with the casting of Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Natasha Lyonne, Evan Ross, and others.

The film is a biography of jazz singer, Billie Holiday. Her performances, her love life, the violence cycle she lived, her period in jail, and drug addiction.

The movie starts with the text about the lynching of black individuals that occurred in the United States since the 1930s until the creation of the Civil Rights in 1950s and 1960s. Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” is based on the lynching of black a North American; thus, its lyrics were consider controversial. This song was prohibited to be sung on many occasions; however, the public continued to ask Holiday to sing it. She was a rebel and refused to stop singing it. Once, she was on the stage, she knew as well that she will have the support of  Lester Young who was her saxophonist, so it was sung as many times she wanted. This was the ‘reason’ used as an excuse by the Antinarcotic, from the FBI to jailed her, arrested, harass her. Drug was planted on her on many occasions.

Holiday new she was targeted for being a black woman, who was protesting for her people. She knew it was a violation of human rights executed by the government; however, all the above incidents never stop her to silencing her voice as a way of protest.

The song “Strange Fruit” was composed by Abel Meeropol and recorded in 1939 by Holiday. The song is based on a poem from Meeropol which is a protest of the lynching that occurred in the Southern U.S.A., against black people and which had a peak in the early 20th century.  The song compares the victims of lynching with the fruits of the trees.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

This song, without a doubt, was one of the best moments of her career. In 1978, it was received in the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also mentioned in the list as “Song of the Century”. Many other singers such as Nina Simone, Diana Rose, Jeff Buckley, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and others made versions of the song.

Youtube Video

The song USA Government once wated to be silent is an icon, not only for the last century, but also applicable today as a symbol for all the black individuals that are being shot in this country by the government (police). Today blood is on the road and not on the leaves of the trees.

If Holiday were to be present today, I am sure she will sing the song from her heart. The context for the black community has not changed. There is a hierarchical and institutionalized racism that prevails over ‘human rights’ of the black individuals.

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